Penny Arcade’s ‘Longing Lasts Longer’
by Wickham Boyle
Contributor THE EDGE
Wednesday Dec 7, 2016
Penny Arcade is a proud 66-year-old wunderkind who rocks the house, vibrates the walls and reduces audiences to tears and raucous giggles and cheers at St. Ann’s Warehouse until December 11 with her new show, Penny Arcade’s “Longing Lasts Longer.” Everyone — boomers, millennials, tweeners, tweeters, and if we could, our cats and dogs and parents — should run, limp, uber, bike or subway to see this show.
It is a mélange of a true prayer meeting, a barnstorming, a testimonial on living young for five decades and never conforming, but always observing life with a gimlet eye. Penny Arcade is a performer with whom many of us grew up. Often she was a first in the genre of “performance art.” And she never disappointed, but now she is at the top of her game and basking in Justin Townsend’s lights, which when they turn magenta just tickle her.
Arcade, whose real name is Susana Ventura, grew up in a traditional Italian immigrant family, left school when she was 13 and came to live on NYC’s Lower East Side. She performed with Wavy Gravy, was a superstar in Andy Warhol’s Factory and acted in many productions at John Vaccaro’s Playhouse of the Ridiculous before launching into her long, lauded, solo performance career.
What is refreshing and compelling about Arcade’s work is her honesty and facility with language, academic concepts, (although she is an autodidact), and her ability to thread cultural observations across the decades seamlessly and lay them at our astounded feet. She begins the show in the gleaming St Ann’s Warehouse space by roaming the audience greeting old friends, doing a bit of chit-chat here and there.
She told the audiences one night that sitting with Marina Abramovic was like sitting with a dog who had been hit by a car, and yet everyone kept saying she was so brave. No one speaks more truth to power than Penny Arcade. And whether you agree with her take on modern art, the suburbanization of our beloved New York City, the solipsism of our youth or the way technology is absorbing our lives, you do not want her to stop coming at you with the force of a hurricane.
Arcade has been collaborating with Steve Zehentner for 25 years. He is on stage with her, albeit to the side, working the sound and collaborating on the direction. Arcade on occasion stops when she gets lost in her patter and asks Steve, where she is going. They banter, he restarts the music and Arcade fiercely forges forward. There is a never a moment when you feel she is anything but genuine, and firmly rooted in the moment. And so as the audience you go with her on her every tangent, gambol, and cultural perambulation.
Arcade says that some people say she is angry, but I identified the emotions as a righteous, yes longing, for what is and was good and amazing. She takes nearly everyone to task: the tourist zombies eating their way across New York bumping into the locals because they have not been inculcated into the art of “the dip” as a way of artful avoidance of collision on the streets and sidewalks; the curse of the Princess Plague, those women tottering along on sky-high heels, arms linked because they have seen “Sex in the City”; and the SUV-sized baby carriages toting giant children through life.
Arcade is never looking to be politically correct; she is looking to be genuine and honest. “I was queer before there was a queer theory. Now we are obsessed with getting pronouns correct. This is another way of distracting us from the loss of democracy.” Arcade’s preferred pronoun, by the way, is “your majesty.” You laugh, and you think. As Arcade says, “Thinking is tough, that’s why so few people do it.”
The show skewers what Arcade calls “The Tyranny of Fragility,” continuing, “There are generations of kids who have never been slapped. Nothing takes the zing out of feeling like a genius than getting slapped.” Yes tough love, but it is certainly what many of us have thought in secret parental or teacher, or avuncular hearts.
The show is seventy-five minutes of non-stop great cogitation, amazing music, a little dancing here and there, and a room crammed with intense feeling. One can feel the wheels turning as we all conjure memories, love, lust and ire, but as Arcade advises, never nostalgia. Only longing, because longing lasts longer and we all want the glow from this show to linger.
Penny Arcade’s “Longing Lasts Longer” runs through
December 11 at St. Ann’s Warehouse, 45 Water Street in Brooklyn NY. For tickets or information, call 718-254-8779 or visit http://www.stannswarehouse.org